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Awards Bicycle Community Metropass

Commuter Choice Awards celebrate sustainable transportation leaders 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, May 07, 2019 2:53:00 PM

Metro Transit recognized sustainable transportation leaders at the 2019 Commuter Choice Awards.A bakery that boasts of being St. Paul’s only carbon-free carb delivery and a YMCA that rewards members for working out on the way to their workouts were recognized as area mobility leaders this week.

Metro Transit and Transportation Management Organizations (TMOs) celebrated their efforts, along with several others, at the annual Commuter Choice Awards. The awards were presented on Tuesday, May 7, at the University of Minnesota.

Brake Bread, based on St. Paul’s West Seventh Street, was named Organization of the Year. The Midway YMCA, on University Avenue, received an honorable mention in the same category.

Formed in 2014, Brake Bread makes as many as 80 deliveries a day using an electric-assist bike with a trailer attachment. In 2018, they eliminated an estimated 11,000 car trips by relying on bike delivery. Brake Bread also supports customers who bike to its store by participating in the Bicycle Benefits program.

Leaders at the YMCA Midway and YMCA Blaisdell, its sister branch, instituted the Clean Commuter Club in 2018 to encourage members to walk, bike or take transit to the gyms. Members who do not drive to the gym are rewarded with guest passes and other perks.

Metro Transit works with TMOs like Move Minneapolis and Move Minnesota to encourage the use of transit and other alternatives to driving alone. The Commuter Choice Awards were introduced more than a decade ago to celebrate government entities, building owners and individuals who support sustainable transportation.

Nominations are reviewed by transportation and human resources professionals, public officials and advocates. Others recognized at this year's Commuter Choice Awards were:

Employer: Quality Bicycle Products

Quality Bicycle Products of Bloomington offers many benefits to encourage sustainable commuting, including contributions to Health Savings Accounts and credits for bike parts, accessories and apparel. “HealthPartners estimates that Quality Bicycle Products saves $170,000 per year in health care costs by investing $45,000 in incentives,” the company said.

Employer Honorable Mentions: SPS Commerce, University of St. Thomas

Commuter Benefits Coordinator: Heather Galvin, Kari Scanlon

When Rally Health relocated, Heather Galvin worked with Metro Transit to enroll the company in the Metropass program. Kari Scanlon, director of human resources for Touchstone MH, also worked with Metro Transit to join the Metropass program.   

Commuter Champion: Katie Peters

When I Work accountant Katie Peters has coordinated outreach events with Move Minneapolis, organized the company’s Metropass participation and helped lead World Car-Free Day activities. When I Work is in the Ford Building, just east of Target Field Station.

Commuter Champion Honorable Mention: Dana DeMaster

Government Entity: Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board

Board staff responded to the opening of the METRO Green Line and other Capitol-area investments by prioritizing transportation management in an updated comprehensive plan. The plan will serve as a reference for developers and property owners seeking board approval.

Learn how Metro Transit and area TMOs can help promote transit and other alternatives to driving alone 

B Line

Community members voice support for the METRO B Line 

Posted by John Komarek | Thursday, May 02, 2019 11:52:00 AM

The proposed METRO B Line promises to provide fast, frequent service connecting Minneapolis and Saint Paul along Lake Street/Marshall, and potentially along Selby to downtown Saint Paul.

At South High School, community members got their first look at some of the proposed B Line and give feedback.

For transit riders Hannah and Hattie, they agree that having the B Line is appealing. Both commute to downtown Saint Paul via express routes, but once there ride the current route 21 frequently.

“I’d love to have the flexibility to leave the office mid-day and not have to figure out bus schedules,” Hannah said. “And with consistency and frequency, I wouldn’t need to. I can’t wait for the METRO B Line.”

METRO Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) services like the B Line offer pickups about every 10-15 minutes all-day.

Hannah and Hattie at an open house at South High School. Both were eager to share their excitement about the METRO B Line.

Hattie’s a biker who uses transit and supports the B Line because it’s a faster option than the current Route 21, which she finds to be occasionally late.

“Fast and frequent pickups sound great, especially when I bike to stations,” Hattie said. “I won’t have to worry about timing it just right to match a schedule.”

A new proposal to extend the B Line along Selby Avenue to downtown Saint Paul is one of the reasons Metro Transit is out in the community getting feedback.

Part of the B Line implementation would be improvements along the corridor that help lessen the effects of traffic and improve transit services, like bus bump outs, improved bus shelters, and a fleet of buses to match the promised frequency.

Community groups like the Lake Street Council also see the potential benefits of the B Line for the Lake Street corridor.

“Improved transit options will make it easier for customers and employees to reach their destinations on Lake Street,” Matt Kazinka, Sustainability Program Coordinator said. "We're hopeful that Metro Transit's investment in the B Line will make the street more welcoming and accessible."

Outreach with the community will continue through the beginning of 2020. Pending full funding, station design will occur in 2020-2021 and construction in 2022.

Find out if there’s an upcoming community session near you or visit the METRO B Line Project page for more information.

Transit Information

Meet the mapmaker behind the ambitious new METRO map 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, May 01, 2019 10:13:00 AM

Senior Graphic Designer Leah Janz with the latest version of Metro Transit's METRO map.Senior Graphic Designer Leah Janz has made a lot of maps. But none have been quite as ambitious as her latest creation, which depicts each of the current and future Light Rail Transit and Bus Rapid Transit lines that make up the METRO network.

LRT and BRT lines in the METRO network have fast, frequent, all-day service. Today’s METRO network includes the Green, Blue, A and Red lines. The network will expand in June with the opening of the C Line, which will provide BRT service between downtown Minneapolis and the Brooklyn Center Transit Center. 

This week, Janz talked about how she created the latest version of the METRO map and how she hopes it will help build enthusiasm for future expansion.

How do you begin to create a map like this?

I created the first version of this map in 2012 when we were preparing for the Green Line opening. I started with a geographic map of all the METRO routes and simplified it using straight lines. Since that original version, the layout has changed to accommodate additional lines and stations. Some design elements have also changed, like using a 10-point grid, restricting the lines to 45- and 90-degree angles and new station icons. Making changes can take several hours as stations and lines are reorganized to fit new information. There’s a lot of trial and error, too. This latest version went through more than five rounds of revisions before it was finalized. Even as the map has grown, simplicity remains the most important goal.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when making this map? 

Adding the future arterial BRT network within the existing network was a big challenge. Because they are identified by letters instead of colors, we used a neutral gray and letter to identify each line. Then we had to figure out how to communicate what exactly those gray lines are in the legend. To make the new lines and stations fit, a lot of the existing lines had to change. We almost didn’t include the station names because they’re long and weren’t going to fit without some major modifications. I had to make the map larger to accommodate the names, which required a lot of finessing of the lines and stations. As our system grows, I expect to do a lot more creative problem solving.

What examples did you look to when creating this map?

This map was modeled after the topological (also called diagrammatic or schematic) style created by Henry Beck for the London Underground in 1931. He believed that simplifying maps through straight lines and geography distortion made the map easier to understand. Ridership increased because customers could make faster decisions. A traditional geographic map, while physically accurate, is harder to understand. Many people don’t want to invest that time and decide not to try transit. Beck’s style was and is so successful that many other transit agencies, including us, have adopted the concept. When making this map, I also referenced maps in the book Transit Maps of the World to see how things like station iconography and transfer points have been handled elsewhere. The most recent printing of the book (2015) has my original METRO map in it, but it’s evolved a lot since then. I’ve also sought out other resources that have informed some of my decisions, including a transit map blog written by a graphic designer.

Do you have a favorite line on the map?

As a former St. Paul resident and University of Minnesota alum, I prefer the Green Line. I just wish it had opened ten years earlier so I could have used it while I was in school! The Orange Line will become a close second when it opens in a few years. I’m looking forward to riding that when I move to the south metro.

What do you hope people think when they see this map?

I hope the map communicates that the METRO network is easy to use and that it encourages more people to use transit. I also hope it helps lead to more public investment in transit so that open areas of the map are filled in and we’re able to serve more people.


Northstar facility, fleet in line for major overhauls 

Posted by Laura Baenen | Tuesday, April 30, 2019 2:10:00 PM

Jeremy Spilde, manager of Northstar commuter rail maintenance

Jeremy Spilde, manager of commuter rail maintenance, in a service pit at Northstar's Operations & Maintenance Facility in Big Lake, Minn.

Locomotives and passenger cars that have been operating for the past decade on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line are about to undergo their first major overhaul.

Before that work can begin, though, the Northstar Operations & Maintenance Facility needs a bit of an overhaul itself.

In a $4 million project, the Big Lake facility will be converted from what’s known in railroad parlance as a running shop into a space where wheel sets, drive motors, generators, engines and other parts can be efficiently serviced or replaced.  

Like buses and light rail vehicles, Northstar’s mid-life maintenance program is intended to ensure the 18 commuter rail cars and six locomotives that operate between Minneapolis and Big Lake safely reach their 30-year life expectancy.

Northstar train cars have logged an average of 300,000 miles since service began in 2009. The fleet overhaul is due to begin as early as 2024 and to continue to for up to eight years. Upgrades to the cars’ interiors, including flooring and lighting, are also being pursued.

Facility improvements now underway will make future overhaul activities and routine maintenance much more efficient. 

One especially important new feature being built this year is what’s known a drop table, a level section of track that rests atop a 26-foot deep pit.

When locomotives and passenger rail cars are placed on the table, wheel sets can be lowered to be serviced or replaced, then lifted back into position. Mark Lanthier, Metro Transit’s construction manager for the project, described the setup as an “elevated bridge within a building.”

Today, mechanics who need to get under train cars use electric hydraulic jacks to lift the 380,000-pound locomotives six to eight feet into the air. Using jacks is more time consuming than using a drop table.

Work also will begin outside this year on a new section of track that will provide more room to perform overhaul activities. In the coming years, the track will extend half the length of the maintenance facility.

The 80,000-square-foot building will also be expanded to house trucks, forklifts and other rail support equipment.

This year’s construction is due to wrap up in November. Until then, Northstar technicians will largely be working outdoors.

Passengers should not experience any changes in service during construction, but they may be able to spot the activity from the nearby Big Lake Station.  

Construction is being led by St. Paul-based Sheehy Construction, with support from 11 subcontractors. Up to 55 employees will receive a combined payroll of more than $3 million for this year’s work.

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Latchman Bhagwandin 

Posted by John Komarek | Friday, April 26, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Latchman Bhagwandin waited eight years to enter the United States. Today, he makes sure METRO A Line riders don’t wait more than 15 minutes for a bus.

As a child in French Guyana, he lived with relatives while his parents worked in New York. In 1981, he finally got the call that he would be reunited with his parents in the Bronx.

“I never experienced flurries until I arrived in New York,” Bhagwandin said. “I also never witnessed seeing a car being jacked before my eyes outside my window.”

In 1997, after visiting some relatives in Minnesota, he and his wife decided to move to the Twin Cities.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” he said. “Two years later, I started driving for Metro Transit.”

Bhagwandin said he applied after seeing advertisements that cheekily suggested bus operators enjoyed an “office with a view." Even then, he had some hesitations.  

“You hear horror stories about being a driver,” Bhagwandin said. “But after seeing the people who drive every day, I knew they can’t all be true.”

When he got behind the wheel for the first time, he remembers that he struggled a bit. A mentor at South Garage helped him overcome those early hurdles, he said.

“I wouldn’t have made it without Bob Benson’s help,” he said. “From my first day behind the wheel through today, he’s been a resource for me.”

Benson was a longtime garage coordinator at South, retiring in 2019 with more than 43 years of service. 

After 20 years of service, Bhagwandin has operated nearly every route out of South Garage. However, he’s found potentially his last route -- the METRO A Line. The Bus Rapid Transit line opened in 2014 and runs between Rosedale Center and the METRO Blue Line's 46th Street Station.

To speed up service, A Line customers buy their fares before boarding and can get on using front or rear doors. Those and other features, Bhagwandin make it preferable to driving a regular route bus. 

“I wanted to drive the A Line from the get-go,” Bhawandin said. “I plan to drive this route every year I can. It’s an easy-going route. What’s not to like?” 

Operator at a Glance

Name: Latchman “Jerry” Bhagwandin (Bag-wan-din)
Country of origin: French Guyana
Hired: 1999
Route: METRO A Line
Garage: South
Hobbies: Loves to go estate sale shopping to look for art.
Family: Wife and two daughters
Lives: Apple Valley
Best Advice: If you have questions, ask them. Never leave the garage without feeling confident.

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